False light no problem for Jews for Jesus

Jews for Jesus*, a litigation-happy racket that not only bases its religion business entirely on LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION but for whom misrepresentation and falsehood defines its entire enterprise, has once again pushed the First Amendment in a direction that works for it and avoided legal sanction for its unethical, but legal, way of utilizing other individuals for its own ends. In Jews for Jesus v. Rapp, the Florida Supreme Court has refused to adopt the tort of false light defamation on the ground that such claims are too rife with free speech risks and add little not otherwise available to most plaintiffs in a position to benefit from it.

What did these charmers do this time?  “The gravamen of Rapp’s claim is that Jews for Jesus falsely and without her permission stated that she had ‘joined Jews for Jesus, and/or [become] a believer in the tenets, the actions, and the philosophy of Jews for Jesus.'”  The philosophy of Jews of Jesus is Messianic Judaism, i.e., a sort of Christianity comparable to schmaltz herring steeped in bacon grease, and it is fair to say that most non-Jews have no idea just how shocking such a claim can be for a Jewish person, especially an older one, to read about herself on the Internet, if it is factually false.

The court acknowledged that there could be scenarios where the tort, as defined in the Restatement, could be useful.  But

to the extent that there may be a subset of cases where there is a wrong without a remedy, we consider that interest too tenuous to be recognized through the tort, most especially in light of the First Amendment concerns. In fact, it appears that the reason there has recently been a spate of false light claims in this State may be because of an attempt to circumvent the shorter statute of limitations for defamation as well as the other statutory prerequisites for a defamation claim.

See, there’s always someone out there spoiling a good thing for everyone else!

Interestingly, the court , in a very thorough and scholarly decision, questions the premise that the false light tort is really all that everywhere else, noting

These observations lead us to two competing conclusions. On the one hand, recognizing the tort would apparently not open the proverbial floodgates to false light claims. Yet, the fact that we can find no judgment that has been upheld by an appellate court solely on the basis of false light leads us to conclude that the absence of false light does not create any significant void in the law. Indeed, there are relatively few scenarios where defamation is inadequate and false light provides a potential for relief.

In a bit of irony, the opinion demonstrates how, in this world, Jews for Jesus seems to have its way with judges.  The Florida courts may be reluctant to let the ministry be held liable for its misrepresentations about others, but J4J insists that its own honor seems be guarded jealously.  The same judiciary that gave us hanging chads willingly complies:

A total of 13 paragraphs were stricken from the original 38-paragraph complaint. For example, paragraph 4 alleged that “Jews for Jesus attempts to convince Jews that they can accept concepts which are alien and contrary to Jewish beliefs yet remain Jewish in order to fraudulently induce them to join their movement.” …  Further, in paragraph 20, the complaint alleges that “[a] further motive for fabrication was to help advance the erroneous concept that many Jews have adopted the beliefs of Jews for Jesus. In order to promote its false teachings, Jews for Jesus attempts to inflate the number of its converts.” …

Irony abounds:  As paradoxical as it is, the decision is an impressive legal result.  It was achieved by the good folks at Liberty Counsel, also known (as their website announces) for their advocacy against abortion and the assertion of rights and legal benefits for “non-traditional-families,” including same-sex marriage.  “Since 2004, we have won 92% of cases” — these guys walk on water!

Now, the false light tort has never been the kind of thing a lawyer wants to lead with, but sometimes it is something you’d like to have in your back pocket.  Yet despite being charged with a tort that seemed to have been named for them, and although the court did keep the “standard” defamation claim in the case, once against Jews for Jesus beat the rap.

NB:  Note the list of amici curiae:

Media General Operations, Inc., The New York Times Company, Orlando Sentinel Communications Company, Sun-Sentinel Company, the Florida Press Association, ABC, Inc., ESPN, Inc., the E.W. Scripps Company, the Association of American Publishers, and Cox Enterprises, Inc. (collectively the Florida Media Organizations)

Wonder what side they argued?  Via On Point.

*Our former litigation adversary, as is known to regulars here, whose law firm in that case has, on God’s own Schedule, been struck down this very week despite the best of branding intentions!

By Ron Coleman

I write this blog.